Almost 50 years later, Sacheen Littlefeather has been given a formal apology by the Academy after her mistreatment at the 1973 Oscars.
When Marlon Brando was honored with the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Godfather at the Academy Awards in 1973, he declined to attend the ceremony.
Accepting the award on his behalf was Indigenous American actress Littlefeather, who made a very powerful statement on Native American representation in film and television that continues to reverberate all time time later,
“[Brando] very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said in her non-acceptance speech. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry — excuse me [as the audience jeered and booed] — and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
Her speech was met not only with jeers from the audience, but threats with arrest and physical assault at the hands of John Wayne, who reportedly had to be restrained from storming the stage from harming her.
In addition, Clint Eastwood took the stage afterward and mocked the then 26-year-old activist. “ I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford westerns over the years,” Eastwood said.
Nearly 50 years after her mistreatment at the 1973 ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is issuing an apology to Littlefeather in an exclusive report from The Hollywood Reporter.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” then-Academy president David Rubin wrote in the organization’s apology letter issued to Littlefeather. “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather will also be the guest of honor at an evening of healing and Indigenous celebration hosted by the Academy Museum on Sept. 17.
“I was stunned. I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” Littlefeather said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “When I was at the podium in 1973, I stood there alone.” She currently has metastasized breast cancer.
“Yes, there’s an apology that’s due. As my friends in the Native community said, it’s long overdue,” she spoke about in part. “I could have been dead by now. All of my friends — [activists] Dennis Banks, Russell Means, John Trudell, [comedian] Charlie Hill — are gone.”
On stride is representation, she said with jest, “At long last, somebody is breaking down the doors. And I’m so very happy this is happening — even though I don’t swear like they do on Reservation Dogs.”
Read the full apology to Littlefeather below:
June 18, 2022
Dear Sacheen Littlefeather,
I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards.
As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.
The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.
We cannot realize the Academy’s mission to “inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema” without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population.
Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices—the original storytellers—are visible, respected contributors to the global film community. We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.
We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization. You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.
With warmest regards, David Rubin
President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences